Liz Eley

In 1993 technology education was introduced to the New Zealand National Curriculum as a learning area in its own right. New Zealand students’ perceptions about technology have been described in previous research as both limited and limiting in the sense that a poor appreciation of the nature of technology results in limited understanding that in turn curtails technological practice. This study investigated this consideration further by focusing on conceptions of and attitudes towards technology (both in and out of school) held by students who participated in the 1996 NEMP assessment.

Approximately 460 Year 4 and Year 8 students completed a questionnaire in interviews conducted by NEMP teacher-administrators. The teachers read the open-ended questions (see next section) to the students and, if requested, recorded the responses. Students were encouraged to give as full an answer as possible and asked to clarify answers that were not clear. Responses were examined for differences between year levels and, for each year level, for differences according to gender and ethnicity (students identified on their school roll as Mäori, and those identified as non-Mäori).

What do students think technology is?

• Seven percent of Year 8 and 43% of Year 4 students said they did not know what technology was. Of those who did give a definition:

   – few gave responses that referred to a       purposeful activity to meet societal needs;
   – many defined technology in terms of       equipment, with a fifth of the sample       referring to making and designing objects;
   – boys’ definitions were more comprehensive       than those of girls, and non-Mäori students’       definitions were more comprehensive than       those of their Mäori counterparts.

What do students think they do at school for technology?

• Just over 20% of Year 4 and 4% of Year 8 students reported they did no technology at school.

• About a third of the students said they built or designed things in technology, with a further 36% of Year 8 students referring to workshop subjects.

• Over 40% of the students referred to using computers.

  How much do students enjoy technology at school?

• Most students gave a positive rating.

• Boys retained a high enjoyment of school technology between Years 4 and 8, but girls became less positive.

• Only 5% of students ranked technology as their favourite subject at school; 20% listed it as one of their three favourite subjects.

What technology activities do students do out of school?

• Thirty-nine percent of students referred to construction activities and 27% to using computers.

• Boys and non-Mäori students reported a wider range and higher frequency of technology activities for leisure.

• At both year levels, boys were twice as likely as girls to mention construction activities. At Year 8, girls were six times as likely as boys to refer to cooking or sewing.

Narrow conceptions of technology have three implications for teaching: students’ lack of understanding can impair their learning; students’ expectations for school technology may not be met by a curriculum that is based on different conceptions from theirs; and poor achievement in technology has been linked to poor conceptions of technology. To develop a broad conception of technology, students need opportunities to explore and articulate their understandings of this subject. Given that a high proportion of younger students did not identify the experiences they receive at school as technology, explicit identification of this subject in the class timetable could have a positive influence on students’ perceptions of it.

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